Arteta celebrates his brilliant strike
Arsenal were utterly outstanding yesterday. From back to front they outplayed Manchester City virtually from start to finish. The headlines today are predictably about Balotelli and his behaviour. However, most of the stuff I've seen and heard fails to give any credit to Arsenal whatsoever. I suppose we should know by now that Arsenal won't get any of the recognition they deserve, after all we had an unbeaten season that seemingly went past unnoticed.
If the game yesterday had finished 3-0 or 4-0 there could have been no complaints from City. Last season when they came to our place they stank the place out with their negativity and the way they played for a draw. When you saw Joe Hart time-wasting at 0-0 with ten minutes to go yesterday you knew they would have been happy with the same again. After that game early in 2011 I said how teams that want to win the Title don't go to big clubs and play for the draw. The same still applies. Manchester City had to win yesterday, or their "challenge" for the Title was gone. To see the way they performed, with the exception of the excellent Vincent Kompany, showed that they are not even close to winning the Premier League.
Having said all of that about City's performance you can't ignore how irresistible Arsenal were at times yesterday. The pressing game was back in midfield and the pace seemed to be in the side again. Bacary Sagna consistently took advantage of the space down the right to get forward. Arsene again surprised us with the team selection, but bringing in Benayoun certainly worked well. The Israeli is a fine performer and is the sort of player every squad requires. He has been seriously underused in his time at Arsenal, especially given the form of Ramsey. I would love to see him signed on a permanent deal, but I suspect he will want to move on in search of playing time. It's a shame as I see him as a very useful player. Alex Song was outstanding again in the midfield, dominating the centre of the pitch. His strength was complemented by Rosicky's subtlety. With Yaya Toure off injured City simply had no answer to Arsenal's attacking play.
The winning goal, when it finally came, was a great strike from Mikel Arteta. Regular readers will be well aware that I do not go in for the idea that Arteta has been a crucial member of the team since he joined Arsenal. Yesterday I again felt he was slowing us down with his insistence on playing short, square passes instead of looking to play forward. When he did finally show some attacking intent he won the ball well in the midfield before smacking an unstoppable shot past Hart. We saw in that moment what Arteta can be when he plays to what we all believe are his natural instincts. Perhaps when Jack Wilshere comes back Arteta will move forward on the pitch and challenge Rosicky for his position behind Robin Van Persie. He can certainly shoot from distance, with accuracy, and I want to see more of it.
Apart from the goal we missed so many chances again. Van Persie was denied by his own teammate when Vermaelen got in the way of a certain goal, and then by the goal-post in the second-half. Quite how Vermaelen and Benayoun contrived to miss after Walcott had hit the post God only knows. Ultimately it didn't matter in the context of winning the game, but goal-difference could yet be important. Aaron Ramsey also managed to miss an open-goal in injury-time, simply by trying to be too clever. Leaving aside the fact that he was inexplicably brought on to play from the left again, it was an awful miss that summed up how things are going for him at the moment. Van Persie and Oxlade-Chamberlain both showed their displeasure at not being passed to in that move, and I hope the Manager takes them to task for their reaction - it was unnecessary and sends a bad message to the supporters.
The win was important in the race for third place. If City continue to implode we could end up in second, but right now I'll settle for third (though that is not good enough by a long way). We have a tough game against Wolves in midweek. They are in dire straits at the bottom of the table, and losing game after game. In my view that makes them due for a change of fortune and Arsenal should be very wary ahead of the game at Molineux. With two games against relegation fodder to come this week we should get six points, but the players must re-produce their form of yesterday, and then the results will take care of themselves.
I'll write a post tomorrow about my favourite people - the match officials. The weekend saw them getting every major decision wrong, with consequences for teams at both ends of the table. I haven't mentioned Mario Balotelli's challenge on Song today, but I will in tomorrow's piece.